What are some of your favorite parts about your job?
I really enjoy talking to my patients and caring for women. Especially as a woman. I feel like I can relate to a lot of the same worries and concerns they have.
Also, the spontaneity. This specialty incorporates surgical skills as well as quick-thinking on your feet. It is a moment-to-moment kind of thing, especially when it comes to delivering babies. I always feel totally humbled because when I get to work, my schedule may say one thing, but when I get done, I could have done a C-section at lunchtime or an emergency surgery that afternoon. All in the same day.
Have your studies and sub-specializing in FPMRS changed the way you think about patients or how you approach their problems?
The pelvis is such an interesting cavity, containing organs that play a crucial role in muscle support, reproduction and sexual function. After becoming board certified in this subspecialty, I realize that I play a unique role in helping women resolve issues of pelvic organ prolapse, leakage and sexual dysfunction. In fact, I realize how much women think about these embarrassing topics, especially the sexual dysfunction symptoms, and how much their needs change as they get older.
For both menopausal patients and younger patients, it’s becoming a lot more acceptable to talk about sexual dysfunction. There’s a cultural shift going on that is allowing and encouraging women to feel more comfortable talking to their doctors about it. I’ve learned how to talk to patients better about sex, too. And why they’re not enjoying it, and how to improve it. We even do ThermiVa in the office which is a procedure that helps tighten the vaginal canal and improves lubrication. This is cutting-edge technology that provides patients non-surgical options without having to even take hormones.
Another unique piece is the degree in which doctors are challenged to restore the anatomy without using synthetic materials (such as mesh). Patients are looking for surgical options that give them a quick recovery and yet, are successful. Surgical management of prolapse is more tailored to each patient, rather than using synthetic products to augment repair. I think I’m a better surgeon because of it.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I’m very sensitive. I really have to displace myself from taking things to heart. I worry about my patients all the time. How they’re doing; how I can help them. But it can be emotionally draining. I’m trying not to be such a worrywart all the time, and trying to be more objective.
What is your biggest success up until now?
Building up a medical practice that I am proud of – I can think of no other success than being a trusted provider. I think most of my referrals come from other patients. It’s been a slow process for me, but I see the difference in the number of patients after joining Cherokee Women’s eight years ago. I continue to grow and try to improve the care I deliver.
Patients have said to me, “I want to see you because I know you’ll take care of me.” It’s so flattering, it’s such a high. I can’t believe somebody would feel that way about me, especially if they don’t even know me. That’s what I wanted, when I was in medical school and residency, to have a situation where the patient could tell that their doctor loves what they do.
When you were young, how did you picture being a doctor? How is your work the same as that, and how is it different?
When you’re young, you don’t live in reality. You live in this foggy, idealistic world. I had a really good mentor, though. I went to high school in a very small town called Amanda, Ohio. Everybody kind of knew each other. My parents owned a grocery store, and we lived on top of the grocery store. I knew I wanted to go to medical school, and I surrounded myself with other people who believed in me and thought I could do it. I always pictured myself looking old (around 30 or so, because when you’re 15, 30 seems so old!), and saying, “Man, I knew I could do it.”
I realize now how naïve I was. The practice of medicine is on-going and fluid. One can never master it. But every great doctor aims high. This is what benefits patients in the long-run, a physician who never stops learning and is never “done.”
What words of wisdom would you give your younger self?
I think I would’ve told myself to have more fun. Trying to get everything done is an accomplishment, but sometimes it can compromise your ability to really grow as a person. If I could tell my fifteen-year-old self anything, I would say take moments to spend time with your family and friends. Every summer, all I did was study or go on some internship or work. And this is the first time in private practice that I’ve actually started taking vacations and making myself a priority.
My dad passed away in November and it’s really impacted my life and how I will live it in the future.
Who is one person who has had a tremendous impact on your life, personally or professionally? Why and how did this person impact your life?
Honestly, there is never just one person. My father obviously was my biggest supporter. He never doubted my ability and was so insistent that I could achieve ANYTHING as long as I worked hard. He and my mother and brother have been so crucial in getting me to this point. The sacrifices they made for me through the years, I could never repay. But I strive to make my father proud, every day. I miss talking to him during my lunch breaks. But I know he is with me. I am so lucky to have had HIM as my father, mentor and spiritual role model.
You’ve mentioned that you like Shakti Gawain’s quote, “Our bodies communicate to us clearly and specifically, if we are willing to listen to them.” What are some ways patients can be more in tune with their bodies? What kinds of things should they pay attention to?
I think one thing is to not ignore symptoms. Day to day, you want to think about what you’re putting into your body, and what your body is saying in return. If it’s time for an oil change in your car, and the little light in your dashboard comes on, you’ll probably get your oil changed. Symptoms are the dashboard warning lights. Our bodies communicate to us using these sometimes subtle signs or symptoms. We just have to make sure we heed the warning.
On the flip side, as a doctor, you’ve gotta pay attention too. The answers are there when the patient walks through the door. But they may not have the answers to explain what the patient is feeling. Most of the time, patients don’t want to complain about their symptoms. I ask them if they have any concerns or if they’re having any pain, and sometimes I get, “Not really.” Not really? Who knows what “not really” means in medicine? You have to really explore further.
Ideally, if patients are able to listen to their bodies, they shouldn’t prolong seeking care. A delay in getting care, whether financial, or for some other reason, can lead to disease or other issues that ultimately either require invasive intervention or make an issue untreatable.